Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv will have come away from Thursday night’s 84-69 overtime victory against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade with mixed emotions: happiness and relief after gaining its first win of the season at the third attempt, but frustration and a sense of disappointment in the knowledge that the result should have been obtained much more easily; Maccabi led by double digits for the vast majority of the game and never trailed, but a late collapse on offense allowed Zvezda to finish with a 2-12 run and force overtime.
Although that extra period was ultimately safely navigated by Maccabi – largely thanks to an explosion of offense from Scottie Wilbekin – the Israeli champion will have to conclude that its overall performance was good…but not really good enough, with plenty of room for improvement over the coming weeks.
One undoubted reason for optimism, however, was a stellar performance from Omri Casspi in his second home debut for the club. His first EuroLeague appearance at Menora Mivtachim Arena came well over a decade ago, with the homegrown forward playing a measly 30 seconds in an 88-81 win over Anadolu Efes in January 2006. He was just 17 years old at the time and went on to make a total of 39 appearances in the competition before departing for Sacramento in the summer of 2009.
Now, a decade and 588 NBA appearances later, Casspi has returned home with the intention of showing Maccabi fans that he is still capable of performing at a high level despite reaching his 31st birthday in the summer. On this evidence, he is very much up for the challenge: Casspi made a blistering start, recording 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 fouls drawn in the first quarter alone to play a starring role as Maccabi flew into a big early lead. And although he couldn’t quite maintain that pace, he continued to exert a major impact upon the action and finished with 15 points (second-highest in the team), 8 rebounds (game-high), 3 assists (second-best on the team) and 8 fouls drawn (game-high) for a performance index rating of 24, by far the best of any player.
Casspi will hope that’s just the beginning and that he will become even more productive once he fully settles in alongside his new teammates. For now, though, more than 13 years after his debut, this was a pretty good way to say "Remember me? I’m back."